Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh appeared on TV on Monday to deny there are any divisions between his GPC party and the Houthi rebels, his ally against the internationally recognized government and the Saudi-led coalition in the country’s civil war.
But tensions have risen in recent weeks between the two factions, and Saleh’s strange appearance, in an interview that was abruptly cut off, was unlikely to dispel rumours he is under house arrest.
“There is no crisis or disputes whatsoever, but only in the imagination of those who want these decisions to be instigated,” Saleh said in an interview with his Yemen Today TV network. He spoke slowly, appearing to choose his words carefully.
Late last month there were rumours that Saleh was put under house arrest by the Houthi rebels after reports of him not leaving his house for a week emerged.
Prior to the rumours, the Houthi rebels issued a statement effectively declaring war on Saleh, saying he had “crossed a red line” and was accused of betraying the Shia militia group.
In Monday’s interview, Saleh said that there had been “fears or doubts” voiced by rebel leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi that Saleh was plotting a coup against their joint government. He said that he sent his assurances to the Houthi leadership.
“We won’t stage a coup against Ansar Allah” the former dictator said said, using another name for the Houthis. The interview was then cut off abruptly, with no explanation provided.
Shortly before Saleh’s appearance, Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, a Houthi spokesman, said that Saleh is “within an arm’s reach,” indicating he may be under the rebels’ control.
Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis descended on Sanaa on August 24 in a major show of support for Saleh, as the mistrust between himself and the Houthi rebels began to boil to the surface.
The rally, which marked 35 years since the founding of Saleh's Arab nationalist General People's Congress, echoed demands to end the Saudi-led coalition war in Yemen, and sent out a strong signal that the strongman remains a force to be reckoned with in the war-torn country.
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Saleh was a strong ally of Saudi Arabia from the late 1970s, until the Houthis took over Yemen’s capital in late 2014.
Between that period, there was a brief cooling in relations when Saleh supported former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
Saleh had also fought six wars with the Houthi rebels between 2002 and 2010, until he allied with them in 2014.
The ongoing war, which began with a Saudi-led intervention against Houthi-Saleh rebels, has plunged Yemen into one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent history, with over three million people displaced and over 10,000 dead due to the conflict.
War has also unleashed a deadly cholera epidemic in the country - one which has been described by humanitarian groups as a direct result of the war.
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